GAZA CITY, Palestine
Palestinian resistance group Hamas seeks to capitalize on the outcome of its latest fighting with Israel to end the years-long Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Israel’s insistence on linking the reconstruction of the blockaded territory to the release of four Israelis held captive by Hamas, however, is complicating the group’s efforts to this end.
Hamas has captured two Israeli soldiers following the 2014 Israeli offensive on Gaza. Two other Israelis are believed to have been held by the Palestinian group after they entered Gaza under unclear circumstances.
Hamas and Israel engaged in 11 days of fighting in early May against the backdrop of an Israeli court verdict to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem.
At least 260 Palestinians were killed and thousands injured in Israel’s bombardment of the blockaded territory that left a vast trail of destruction. Thirteen Israelis were also killed by Palestinian rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. The fighting, the fiercest in years, came to a halt under an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire on May 21.
While Israel made the release of Israelis held captive by Hamas a prerequisite to allowing the Gaza rebuilding, the Palestinian group rejects any link between the two issues, saying that it will only free the Israelis in exchange for Palestinians held by Israel.
An estimated 4,500 Palestinians are believed to be held in Israeli prisons, including 41 women, 140 minors, and 440 administrative detainees, according to data compiled by organizations on the rights of prisoners.
Although the Hamas-Israeli cease-fire still holds, observers foresee an outbreak of another round of fighting in light of the persisting tensions.
On June 16, Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes on Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip in response to the sending of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian territory into southern Israel.
Hamas, for its part, accused Israel of attempting to impose new rules of engagement by equating incendiary balloons with missiles.
Following talks with Tor Wennesland, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process on Monday, Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya al-Sinwar, described the meeting as “bad” and issued warnings to Israel against continuing to impose its years-long siege on Gaza.
A well-placed Palestinian source earlier told Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity that Hamas leaders have agreed to give a chance to Arab and international efforts aimed at lifting the Israeli siege on Gaza and alleviating the suffering of its residents.
Analysts speaking to Anadolu Agency agree that Hamas is determined to break the Gaza blockade using various means if mediation efforts fail.
The Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip has been in place since the summer of 2007 and has caused a significant deterioration in the living conditions of its residents.
Palestinian political analyst Mustafa al-Sawaf believes that the failure of mediation efforts will possibly open the door for a new military escalation between Hamas and Israel.
“The information we have in the Gaza Strip indicates that the resistance groups are determined to achieve their goals,” al-Sawaf told Anadolu Agency.
“The resistance gave the mediators an opportunity to play their role, but it seems that they did nothing, which leads us to several scenarios, one of which may be a military escalation.”
Commenting on Sinwar’s recent comments on his meeting with the UN envoy, al-Sawaf said the Hamas leader’s statements suggest that the UN envoy tabled the Israeli condition of linking the file of the Gaza reconstruction to the release of Israeli prisoners.
Al-Sawaf also expects Hamas to respond to recent Israeli airstrikes on Gaza in response to incendiary balloons. “Israel is wary of the repercussions of its continued aggression,” he said.
Hani al-Aqqad, a political analyst, opines that the Israeli intransigence risks the outbreak of a new military confrontation with Palestinian resistance factions.
“Israel’s violation of the cease-fire, the bombing of Palestinian sites, its violations against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and its equating of incendiary balloons with rockets will provoke Hamas to make calculations on the best way to respond,” he said.
“Most of the messages of the resistance have been coming from the head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and this indicates the strength of what it wants to convey to Israel,” al-Aqqad said.
He continued: “The messages of the resistance factions and the Hamas movement are tactical messages intended to threaten Israel and prevent it from imposing a new equation.”
Abeer Thabet, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, agreed that the situation may deteriorate into a new armed confrontation if the Israeli intransigence continues.
“We may be heading to a new confrontation as long as Israel continues to ignore Palestinian demands to lift the Gaza siege, and the mediators fail to achieve any breakthrough in this regard,” Thabet said.
For Thabet, the change of the Israeli government and the turmoil that preceded it were also among the important reasons that weakened the local and international political efforts aimed at calming tensions between Hamas and Israel.
Under the new coalition agreement among eight Israeli parties, right-wing Naftali Bennett is leading the Israeli government for two years followed by centrist Yair Lapid for two more years.
*Writing by Ibrahim Mukhtar in Ankara
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